When it comes to NCAA violations, the Ohio State University hardly lacks experience. Since 2000, the school has reported 375 violations to the NCAA. Several of them have come from football.
The recent scandal regarding OSU football coach Jim Tressel’s knowledge of his players’ improper benefits, and his deceit and mismanagement of the situation proves what we have always known: Integrity is not, and will never be, colored scarlet and gray.
The program at OSU has been darkened for a long time. Former OSU football coach Woody Hayes, known for his results on the field, was known better for his temper. For those of us too young to remember, Hayes — OSU’s historical coaching icon, much like our Bo Schembechler — was dismissed from the university for punching a student-athlete on the opposing team when OSU played Clemson University in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
Hayes was a good coach, probably with a lot of psychological problems, but his conduct shows the type of blood that has historically run through the veins of OSU. Earle Bruce was hired as Hayes’s replacement. He was said to have been Hayes’s favorite for the job. But Bruce followed eight strong seasons with one poor season, when he went 6-4-1, and OSU dismissed him. In doing so, the school set a precedent that has carried through to today: Buckeyes care about one thing, and that thing is winning.
Coach John Cooper fared a little better. He followed multiple Big Ten championships with consecutive 6-6 and 8-4 seasons, and in spite of the upward trend, he was released because of his 2-10-1 record against us. Talented coaches weren’t good enough for Ohio State. Nothing short of near-perfection would be accepted.
At last, OSU found its man. Tressel, like a dark horse rider, came in and has dominated the Big Ten since his arrival. As much as I hate to admit it, he has lost only one game to Michigan in 10 years. And since that one loss, he has led OSU to a Big Ten Championship each year. His abilities on the field are not questionable.
But his ethics off the field certainly are.
Gordon Gee, president of OSU, seemed completely to subordinate the stakes here. Speaking on whether he’d fire Tressel, he said: “I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” In doing so, he basically denies all wrongdoing on Tressel’s part, making the miniscule two-game punishment look like even more of a joke, if possible. Accept this as Gee’s admission that Jim Tressel, not Gordon Gee, runs the Ohio State University.
Michigan rivals still cite the phrase, “The pride cometh before the fall,” in reference to our football program. It’s no secret that the past few years for us have been anything but glorious. Sure, we had a talented offense for two of three, but not much else. And yet now it seems that pride will be Tressel’s undoing.
Or at least, it should be. But Tressel seems to be the kingpin of the shoddy operation that is OSU athletics. Gee and OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith don’t look much better. After what many are calling a “slap on the wrist” to Tressel, some think that the NCAA ought to be harsh on OSU and specifically Tressel. Who could disagree? The coach effectively lied to the NCAA during its investigation of his players and protected student-athletes who he knew were doing improper things. Rather than being an educator or leader, Tressel chose the game of football over the “game of life” that he talks about in his book, “The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life.”
The Big Ten conference deserves better leadership and representation from one of the most storied programs among its ranks. Buckeye fans deserve to be able to say they won fair and square. The student-athletes of the Buckeye football team deserve a better educator. We, the arch nemeses of all things Ohio State, deserve a fair game every November. Grant Freking of OSU’s student newspaper The Lantern recognizes this, and said Tressel should be fired.
But it’s unlikely that will happen. Gee won’t do it. Tressel won’t resign. It would be too ethical for him. No, Tressel will continue to be the head of OSU football for another year, at least. But one thing should be clear to NCAA football coaches. There is only one way to undo Tressel, and only one way to undo the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. Let this be a lesson to Michigan football coach Brady Hoke and all other coaches in and outside the Big Ten. Make them pay on the field for their ethics violations. Make them lose.
Eric Szkarlat can be reached at eszkarla@umich.